Thoughts on Amazon’s investment in Ecobee

Amazon is making its largest investment yet through its Alexa Fund into internet-connected thermostat-maker Ecobee. Announced on Thursday, Amazon is joining a $35 million round into the Toronto, Canada-based hardware startup. Other investors include Thomvest and Relay Ventures. Ecobee wouldn’t clarify who led the round. The $100 million Alexa Fund is named after Amazon’s intelligent […]
Source: Amazon’s Alexa Fund Makes Its Biggest Investment Yet In $35 Million Round Into Nest Competitor Ecobee

I missed this article from last month, but to me, Amazon investing in Ecobee is something to keep and eye on with regards to gaining some insight into the strategy for the future of their consumer IoT efforts.

Google appears to be currently reconfiguring its hardware approach to consumer IoT with its shuffling of Nest resources, while at the same time putting the finishing touches on its IoT platform software stack combo: Brillo and Weave.

Brillo is an embedded operating system for connected devices which has the potential for making the world of IoT device programming more accessible to the large army of mobile application developers.

“Brillo brings the simplicity and speed of software development to hardware for IoT with an embedded OS, core services, developer kit, and developer console.”

Weave is “a communications platform for IoT devices that enables device setup, phone-to-device-to-cloud communication, and user interaction from mobile devices and the web.” In a nutshell, this is the Google answer to Apple’s HomeKit. It is an application and communication infrastructure for device manufacturers to implement in their connected devices to eliminate a lot of the development overheard required for a company to build its own IoT platform.

In the not too distant future, I’ll venture a guess that the average consumer looking into purchasing “connected devices” for their home will really only be concerned with “Works with Apple HomeKit…and Siri” and “Works with Google Weave…and Google’s apps”.

All of the other battles that are being waged behind the scenes with regards to IoT device communication standards, protocols and radio frequency standards (Wifi, Bluetooth Low Energy, Thread, Z-wave…), both open source and proprietary, are not going to truly impact the end-user in any noticeable way that they will be necessarily concerned with. If your connected device leverages Apple HomeKit and or Google Weave, you can think of it as the equivalent of writing a mobile app for iOS or Android, or both. Your device will be accessible to a majority of the consumers with the disposable income needed to automate their homes.

For Amazon, at the moment anyways, their efforts appear to be focused on being the virtual assistant front-end to home automation in the form of Alexa. Ask your assistant to do something, and it is done over the web. Change the temperature, turn off a light, open the garage door, Alexa can do it all for you on top of answering random questions and getting you information from the web. If you have enough Alexa-compatible devices that can hear and respond to your voice, you don’t need to have that Apple or Android device in hand.

With Alexa on the Echo, the Tap, the Dot and a potential litany of other third-party devices in the near future, Amazon is betting on being the way you are going to control your automated home by having their Alexa-fied devices throughout your home. The way it currently looks is that they that to be the voice interface to home automation in order to capture all the valuable data of what all those users are looking to have done for them.

Investing in Ecobee might be showing that Amazon is not looking to create the connected consumer products, but to be the gateway to them. The way Amazon sees it, the money is in the information, not the products or platforms.

One sidenote: The fatal flaw to Alexa that I see, again at the moment, is that if you don’t have an internet connection, Alexa can’t help you do anything. With HomeKit and Weave, you will still be able to control your home automation connected devices through their respective integrations in mobile apps over your local network, even when your internet connection is down. The subtleties go much deeper with regards to internet connection limitations of these various solutions, but at first pass this is a potential area of weakness for Alexa.

Honestly, the article that started this post sort of opens the floodgate for the current state of consumer IoT and I can actually do a deep dive on each paragraph I’ve written here and still only scratch the surface.

There’s a lot to talk about…which I suppose has something to do with why I’ve recently started writing about it…


Originally published at paulbonneville.com on September 20, 2016.

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